Brett Gregory

Brett Gregory

Brett Gregory is an independent screenwriter, director and producer based in Manchester (UK).

How to Protest: UK Politics, Press and Propaganda
Wednesday, 10 April 2024 12:57

How to Protest: UK Politics, Press and Propaganda

Brett Gregory interviews Giedre Kubiliute, principal author of Protests and the Media: A Critical Event Studies Exploration into the Future of Protest (Routledge, 2024)

BG: Hi, my name is Brett Gregory and I'm an associate editor with the UK arts, culture and politics website, Culture Matters. What follows is a wide-ranging interview with the principal author of ‘Protests and the Media: A Critical Event Studies Exploration into the Future of Protest’, an excellent book published in February 2024 which interrogates the interrelationship between protest, politics and propaganda in the UK.

Hi. What is your name, and what are the academic origins behind your publication?

GK: My name is Giedre Kubiliute. My path into research began through my Master's research project while studying at Leeds Beckett University, and that's where I met Dr Ian Lamond, the co-author of the book who was my research supervisor at the time. Ian's areas of research interests include conceptual foundations of event research, creativity and events of dissent, death, fandom, critical geography, whereas myself, having no previous academic background, my interest in protest and dissent is rooted in my own past growing up in Lithuania in the turbulent 1980s and 1990s, and the significance of dissent throughout my country's history.

BG Black Lives Matter

BG: And what was the experiential key which helped you to unlock your motivation and determination with regards to completing this project?

GK: The book started as my Master's research project which I was due to start working on during the Covid-19 pandemic. All the events happening at the time, particularly the wave of the Black Lives Matter protests across the world, and Sarah Everard’s murder and the vigil. They were so emotionally charged and emotive, and the unprecedented context of the lockdown and the unknown that they were happening in, it added a whole new level of intensity. So, I personally found myself feeling really moved on some visceral level by all the protests taking place, and I wanted to interrogate that feeling further.

BG The Baltic Way 2 Chain of Freedom Lithuania 1989

BG: You mentioned your Lithuanian background earlier. In what ways has this characterised your political outlook?

GK: It took me back to my childhood and the events of dissent I was a witness to from The Baltic Way of 1989 – which was a demonstration of close to 2 million people creating a human chain (see above) which connected Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – to the hundreds of people defending the Lithuanian Parliament and the television tower in Vilnius, and standing up to the Russian tanks on the 13th January 1991 where 14 people lost their lives, to many other events I have seen or have been told about. So, to me protest events of defiance against oppression first and foremost, and they can bring hope, unite people and change the course of history, and they are tools to achieve societal change and innovation.

BG: And what wider sources have helped to define your own personal understanding of political dissent and protest?

GK: As Matthew Mars has said for innovation and the betterment of the existing situation to happen, there must be a form of so-called ‘creative disruption’. Or, as Henri Lefebvre said, a group of people who designate themselves as innovators must firstly intervene by imprinting a rhythm on an era, and their acts must inscribe themselves on reality.

So, seeing protest from my standpoint, it was very uncomfortable to observe how the media twisted and framed those events. Not only influencing how the public saw those specific events in question, but how the purpose and the driving force for that dissent was at times twisted to meet certain narratives that were perpetuated by certain media outlets or the state; and there was often a certain lack of will from the wider public to interrogate those narratives as well. And once you see it happen over and over again you can't unsee it: it happens everywhere all the time.

BG: Please tell us a little bit more about ‘Critical Event Studies’ as an academic subject, and how it can relate to our everyday lives.

GK: ‘Critical Event Studies’ interrogates the concept of an event. It frames the event as a rupture that can reveal the structures of power that underlie what's holding the daily life routines in place. Different theorists will use different terms which, while the meanings differ, they basically show that it is power or oppression that binds the routines of daily life into the practices of daily life. However, as well as exposing those power relationships, we also open up possibilities for different ways the relationships can be formed, and it's the event's ability to open up the multiplicity of alternative formations that enables resistance to existing power relationships.

When we stop seeing an event as something anchored to corporate or commercial constructions of events and project management, that enables us to draw on multiple fields and disciplines whilst seeking to explore their disruptive connections.

BG: Could you give a few specific examples?

GK: I mean there are so many of them, from a mainstream event studies perspective. We could look at the reactions to recent sporting mega events such as the Qatar World Cup or the recent iteration of the Olympic Games. We'll look at the debates of how to manage the most recent Eurovision song contest. Outside that narrow frame of reference, in the UK general elections, recent and emerging legislation around the forms protest can take; the huge upsurge in hate crime, particularly associated with sexual orientation and gender identity. None of them are critical events but they are ‘evental landscapes’ that warrant critical interrogation.

BG: Let's now look a little deeper into the mechanics and organics of political dissent and protest. What is the overall purpose, for example?

GK: Public dissent is really about publicly demonstrating counter-narratives. When we increase the level of knowledge and awareness of a topic the general trajectory of public discourse can be slightly nudged. It won't be an overnight solution, it's not a magic bullet kind of thinking. It's just a slight push but it can influence the change: it can draw people into coalitions as well, maybe those who were floating before. Of course, it can push people away too.

BG Extinction Rebellion Protest at Blackfriars Bridge 2018

Extinction Rebellion protest

One of the people we interviewed for our book Pete, a scientist for Extinction Rebellion and other movements, made a very interesting and important point. There is often a misunderstanding that a movement behind a protest always seeks some sort of approval from the public which is then followed by an argument that more disruptive protest action will turn the public against the movement. And Pete argued that the purpose of a protest is never to make the wider public like the movement: it's to draw the public's attention to the problem, and that can often be lost in how the events are framed by the media.

BG: And what possible consequences can such actions and events have for wider society?

GK: Roland Bleiker, a Professor of International Relations, suggested that if we push the understanding of democracy beyond an institutionalised framework of processes and procedures, then dissenting protest could be viewed as a new kind of democratic participation that actually makes a meaningful contribution to the theory and practice of global democracy. But, instead, we witness governments refusing to deal with the causes that push people to protest and often those governments won't even attempt to eliminate those reasons but will instead put forward legislation to increase police powers and punishment in an attempt to squash the dissent which will only set the system up for further failure.

BG: So, how do governments, corporations and their media associates manage to keep the public at large in check?

GK: Public relations will often use propaganda and persuasion techniques that make use of emotional triggers instead of rational arguments, and often those are used without any regard for potential underlying ethical issues. Popular media sources and even some academics tend to frame protest by using traditional ‘angry mob’ or ‘mob mentality’ concepts which originate in historic crowd psychology. This cliché has been perpetuated to the extent where just one mention of a protest will evoke an image of an angry crowd in some people's minds.

BG: Can you give us a specific example of this?

GK: In April 2023 Extinction Rebellion organised an event called ‘The Big One’, and this event attracted approximately 100,000 participants and it was run in cooperation with the police. However, I'm pretty sure that hardly anyone has heard about it because we know that there are various reasons why the media will not cover peaceful gatherings.

If you speak to some journalists that have turned to activism I'm sure they'll tell you that disruptive events are partially driven and encouraged by the media itself, so the reporters are not exactly free to report the topics they feel are important as the power structures within their corporations decide what narratives and stories are acceptable. So, sometimes publishing a coverage of events may be the only way to touch on the issues at the heart of the dissent. However, for a journalist to be able to cover the event it has to be of significant scope and cause enough disruption to attract the media attention, so in that way media in itself can act as a catalyst for disruptive action.

BG: And the work of Noam Chomsky has been important in terms of your understanding of, for instance, ‘soft power’ shaping public opinion.

GK: In our book we talk a lot about how Herman and Chomsky’s ‘Propaganda Model’ is still very much alive today and it can be adapted for the new information technologies, and the way the information society operates. This model looks at how the so-called ‘raw information’ or ‘raw news’ gets filtered and manipulated by the factors of who owns the media firms, where their political interests lie, advertising as the primary income source; the reliance of the media on information provided by the government and so-called experts who are funded and approved by those sources and agents of power.

BG: What do you mean by the term ‘priority distortion’ with regards to mainstream mediated communication?

GK: Mainstream media, and particularly those sources specialising in ‘soft news’, they will use what we call ‘priority distortion’ by firstly reporting on some celebrity drama which will be followed by a story about political or social welfare issues, and that creates an absurd contrast in the reader’s mind and it devalues any interest in political engagement. When we spoke to a member of Extinction Rebellion they told us that the right-wing media will sometimes publish articles stating that the scientists are concerned about the climate emergency, but will not explain any details. So that makes such a topic and news too complex for some of the readers to understand or engage with; and, worryingly, as coverage of important social issues can be distorted and controlled by misinformation and omission, the public and some mid-level policy makers will still be basing their decisions on such filtered information.

BG: And ‘perspectivism’?

GK: ‘Perspectivism’ is a concept that looks at how we interpret the world around us based on our views and perceptions, and that is a result of the impact, the ideology and material conditions have on news reporting, which in itself is a process of choosing what information to report on and then using that information to carve it into further narratives. Most frequently we can witness the narratives that create a binary between us and them where ‘they’ will be positioned as problematic disruptive outsiders whose actions and nature are always so transparent to us, while they cannot fully appreciate the complexity of the virtuous ‘us’.

BG: Them and Us. Us and Them.

GK: So, there’s binaries are everywhere you can find them in the news reporting, ranging from the local reports about disruptive protesters in the UK, the asylum seekers in Europe, the narratives about gender identity, religion, to ultimately the West against Russia narrative which has been perpetuated by the Russian government over the last couple of years. We also witnessed it again when the right-wing media reacted to Extinction Rebellion's blockade of Murdoch's print works and used character assassinations of individual members of the movement in order to discredit the whole movement.

BG: Misinformation, disinformation, character assassinations … How do they keep getting away with it?

GK: Often the ruling elite will also use the concept of national security and intelligence to control any information leaks that could pose a danger to the ruling classes and corporations; and those who question the corporate political and military powers will be labelled as traitors. In the same way mainstream media can be used to drive the general public away from political debates by conditioning people to support the policies of political elites by claiming that those policies are essential for state security and public safety, although they are really aimed at silencing the voices that could be dangerous to those who are in power.

BG: And what else has your research uncovered?

GK: In our research it was interesting to observe how the media's portrayal of police actions at protests shifted depending on the event. All three events we spoke about in the book took place within about a year of each other during the lockdowns and under the same guidelines. However, the media was expecting the police to behave very differently in each of them; and not only that, the media can use a protest event as a basis to reinforce certain narratives that lie at the heart of the movement. In our book we explore how both right-leaning and left-leaning media displayed overall similar attitudes and coverage of the events around Sarah Everard’s vigil, but behind that coverage they had very different attitudes and discussions regarding the matter of women’s safety. And there are so many more examples of how public opinions are formed to avoid any interrogation.

BG Sarah Everard The Search for Justice BBC 2024

BG: For example?

GK: One that really boils my blood is the conversations we are having about gender-neutral toilets. What we have now is an argument that women's safety is put in danger as essentially men posing at trans-women or otherwise can get access to women's spaces. So, the narrative has been turned to position two marginalised groups, women and trans-people, against each other and to put trans-people in a role of the threat when the real and, in my opinion, very obvious situation is that women are worried about their safety because men in disguise or not pose a threat to women's safety, and not only women's: any other marginalised groups really. It's a historical, cultural and societal problem that we are avoiding and we're not talking about.

So, what we do as a society now, we position two marginalised groups against each other as enemies and allow the real perpetrator to walk away unchallenged and unscathed. Those who pose the real danger just so happen to also hold the power in terms of capital, legislation, justice, policing, yet they don't get challenged. Why don't we as a society start having those uncomfortable conversations? Why aren't we challenging our male friends, family members? Why don't we educate our sons and employees and teach them the values they never had to be bothered to learn? Because it's an uncomfortable conversation, and people would rather find an enemy in a marginalised group that holds no power than challenge the real problem. Again, you see this everywhere and I think as a society, and particularly in this country, we will do everything in order to avoid any uncomfortable conversation. So, we will happily reinforce power structures even though they are contributing to the collapse of society, and put people and the planet in danger, just so, God forbid, we don't have to question anyone.

BG: Indeed. Utterly shameful. We are talking about at least 2,000 years of white patriarchy however – fully resourced by seemingly unlimited wealth and power – and which is, sadly, as embedded into our society and collective psyche as the foundations of Hadrian's Wall are embedded into the earth.

I believe it is going to take at least another 200 years of round-the-clock vigilance, education, activism and sacrifice for a truly permanent attitudinal change to be accepted on a national scale.However, isn't this one of the reasons why we choose to be here right now in 2024: to continue to help bring about progressive and positive change in others in some small but significant way? And with this in mind, I suppose we should continue and explore how propaganda and persuasion techniques are currently being employed online.

GK: The dominant social media platforms have concentrated ownership and form a very concentrated market. So, while on television and in the printed press the advertisers can target specific audiences, on social media multiple audiences can be targeted at once and this can be done artificially through bots which not only create automated posts, shares, likes and such but can be used as a tool to target and harass journalists and activists to flood them with hate and threads from artificially created accounts.

BG: And, of course, the reaction of the billionaire owners of these platforms is to simply hide away in their high-security ivory towers and count their money. As a consequence, where does that leave the rest of us?

GK: Facebook and Google algorithms are kept as a corporate secret so the owners control them and determine new sources for the general public. So the algorithms selected, exposure and audience fragmentation, they all create a hotbed for radicalisation, deep fake videos, voice cloning, generative text and other AI-generated content are becoming more and more convincing, and they have been widely used to spread disinformation during the US presidential elections, the Kremlin's attempts to discredit European governments, bots and fake accounts have been widely reported to be used by Russia to create counter-narratives around the war in Ukraine. It's also suspected that the Chinese government used fake news stories in a barrage jamming technique to overwhelm certain hashtags and make the readers see images of cotton fields as opposed to the tweet about the forced labour camps.

One of the people we interviewed for the book shared her horrific experiences, when following her public actions trolls created a fake ‘Only Fans’ account where they had her face superimposed and which was shared to her family, and those trolls used and altered photographs of her mother who had passed away to harass this person even further.

BG: It's like a war, an ideological, hyperreal war. Such a daily and nightly barrage of abuse must take its toll on activists and protesters on a personal level?

GK: We gathered from the people we interviewed for the book that a lot of people come to social activism not really knowing what to expect or rather not understanding how hard-hitting and life-changing this choice can be. First of all it's a huge and steep learning curve. An individual may think they might know enough and that they stand firmly on the ground, however joining a movement seems to open a floodgate of information or truth that one was not prepared for. Ultimately, it can create a sense of burden and loss and foster a sense of duty to create a change, and it will likely impact personal life choices going further as well which can have a negative impact on existing relationships, family ties, even professional life. Ultimately, it is likely to have a very significant impact on a person's mental health.

BG: Of course, naturally.

BG Green and Black Cross Group Manchester 2023

Green and Black Cross Group

GK: Then again there are other significant aspects. The question of finding one's identity and purpose within a movement; finally seeing that a change can be achieved and advocated for through collective action; network-building, finding like-minded people. So, there is a lot to consider, there is a lot of potential for life-changing happenings. Social movements also need to support activists more. Whether that support will be on a movement by movement basis, or it adopts the lines of something like the Green and Black Cross Group where an independent body of volunteer counsellors are established to support movements.

This is something both Ian and I want to interrogate further. The mediated manipulation of activism and activists has raised profound mental health and well-being issues for social movements, and to neglect working on those can cause high risk to individuals and to the work of the movements for social justice.

BG: Due to the absolute derelict state the UK is in at the moment I'm certain there are many, many conscientious readers and listeners out there who have seriously considered political activism of some sort but then again, on a personal level, is it worth the risk?

GK: There is always a risk but there are a couple of important things to bear in mind. Engaged democratic mobilisation for change that operates through a perspective of care and conviviality is much stronger on the left than it is on the right politically. It is opposed to the neoliberalist stance that promotes the destruction of the social through increased focus on the individual. We mentioned well-being and personal transformations that individuals undergo when they get involved in activism, and that's not to scare or put anyone off, it's to highlight how all-encompassing such transformations can be. And I think it's important for the movements to remember that they are creating lasting networks where peer support and education must be and it must remain one of the priorities and, hopefully, external players being aware of what activism entails. The various aspects and sometimes risks, they can also contribute to the societal change by offering their support and promoting and facilitating the culture of collaboration between different networks and groups.

The political right is far less about conviviality and much more about the spectacle and Donald Trump is an example of this above all others. Late capitalist democracy is very skilled at appropriating the tools of activism and converting them into commodified commercial opportunities, but activism isn't static either. What this means is that as activists we must always be adapting, growing and evolving. By assuming the approach we are now adopting that will affect change we will essentially be walking those techniques into the hands of those we are opposing, so only by being agile and creative we can keep ahead.

BG: Many thanks for your time, insights and patience, Giedre.

‘Protests and the Media: A Critical Event Studies Exploration into the Future of Protest’ is available now via the Routledge website.

The Trust Fall: Julian Assange
Saturday, 16 March 2024 12:06

The Trust Fall: Julian Assange

Published in Films

Brett Gregory interviews the director of The Trust Fall: Julian Assange, and reviews the film

Kym Staton appears on screen, tired. In the little Zoom box in front of me he is sitting at a table in a little box room in a hotel with his head a little bowed. He is the Australian director and producer of the 2023 documentary, The Trust Fall, a 126 minute rumination on the 15 year political evisceration of the journalist, activist and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been indicted under the 1917 US Espionage Act and incarcerated in Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019.

I am sure that releasing this film in the UK in the wake of Assange’s final appeal at the Supreme Court on February 20-21, amidst cacophonous coverage from the international media, seemed like a good idea at the time.

After Staton’s twenty minutes with The Daily Star, it is my turn. I ask what inspired him to produce the documentary. 

‘In 2010 I was watching the news in my living room,’ he replies, ‘and I was absolutely shocked to see 12 civilians, including two journalists, being shot dead on a street in Baghdad by a US Army helicopter.

‘Seven or eight years later I started to explore some films about Assange and WikiLeaks, and I started to make sense of it all. It just happened that three years ago I had some spare time to make a documentary. I’m an Australian and Assange is an Australian citizen who’s just a few years older than me, and I really admire his bravery, his striving for peace and truth.’

The coarse black-and-white footage filmed from the POV of a circling US Apache gunship in 2007 – subsequently disclosed to WikiLeaks by whistleblower, Chelsea Manning – forms the centrepiece of ‘The Trust Fall’, providing undeniable, demented and damning evidence of the US military’s febrile ferocity during its operations in Iraq.

‘What the US government didn’t bank on,’ Staton continues, ‘was that we were going to dredge up this footage, enhance it and make it even more shocking and more powerful by putting it on a screen for an audience, eliciting all kinds of emotive elements that would make grown men cry.’

The segment is called ‘Collateral Murder’, and I ask where he acquired the footage.

‘It’s freely available on the Sunshine Press YouTube channel,’ he informs me. ‘It’s been there since 2010 but it’s only had a couple of million views. This shows you that YouTube hasn’t taken it off their platform, but they’re definitely stopping it from circulating, and perhaps that’s why only 5% of the world’s population has seen it.

‘Plus there is the never-seen-before footage of the 10-year-old boy who was a victim of that incident.’

He is referring to Sajad Sattar Mutashar who, along with his father, was gunned down by the Apache crew as they attempted to rescue some of the wounded from off the street. While his father was killed, Sajad survived and, during an archive interview featured in the documentary, the boy lifts up his t-shirt, in tears, to reveal a scar rising up from his stomach to his sternum.

I point out that there are far-reaching issues at stake in The Trust Fall which, ominously, are critical to the future direction of Western democracy, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and governmental accountability.

I then ask if he has any plans to produce a follow-up documentary, regardless of whether Julian Assange is extradited to the US or not?

‘Well, this film was such a laborious process I wouldn't be surprised if I never make one again,’ he confesses. ‘It just stretched me to my absolute limits. I'm not a career documentary-maker, I'm a musician in fact; and once this is all finished I'd quite happily go back to my singer/song writing adventures and take things easy. But certainly, with this project, with this cause and this campaign, I won't stop until Julian is free.’

And with that my time is up.

‘We’ll be in touch,’ the PR tells me, and the little Zoom box goes black. I remain at my desk, however, and ponder Australia. There are twenty or so screenings of the documentary taking place there throughout March, and I imagine the ways in which it will be received differently than in the UK.

Al Jazeera reported that a motion had been proposed in the Australian Parliament by MP Andrew Wilkie on February 15th and, in response, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese argued that the Australian government had a duty to lobby for its citizens and that he had raised the issue ‘at the highest levels’ in Britain and the US. ‘This thing cannot just go on and on and on indefinitely,’ he said.

Of course, from the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, there has been nothing. Nothing but silence.

Lacking discipline, deftness and definitiveness

With regards to the documentary itself, as well as the accomplished publicity campaign which accompanies it, I find it admirable that the team has managed, amidst a mediated milieu of animosity and apathy, to strongarm Julian Assange’s sorrowful saga of persecution and imprisonment into the public eye.

Allied with the leaked footage of the US military’s multi-million dollar drive-by shooting of twelve Iraqi civilians, it is hoped that the audiences the film connects with will rightfully and rigorously reflect upon the war crimes which their superiors commit, and the whistleblowers they condemn, in their name. Whether or not they choose to act upon the results of such reflection, however, is another matter.

Unfortunately, as a cinematic construction, the production does not deliver the stylistic or narrative discipline, deftness or definitiveness which such high-profile political subject matter deserves. The music cues are often immodest, the editing inelegant, and the unrestrained use of still photographs somewhat undermines our understanding of cinema as ‘the art of the moving image’.

The production’s aesthetic endeavours are sadly exacerbated by a parallel animated narrative running throughout which aims to illustrate and dramatise Assange’s ordeal. However, this is not needed: the wide array of political, legal and intellectual talking-heads, interspersed with footage harvested from online sources, serves this purpose effectively enough. Thus, instead of humanising a blighted man on our behalf, we are instead distracted from him.

Furthermore, the running time of the documentary is too long and should have been restricted to about 90 minutes, so it would be more accessible to a wider and younger audience. For instance, probably due to their international reputations as purveyors of peace and justice, the late journalist and documentarian, John Pilger, and the writer and activist, Tariq Ali, are somewhat overused and, inevitably, their political points begin to grow repetitive.

In the denouement of the documentary, we are also met by multiple emotive endings, an act of authorial indiscipline which subverts the clear, compelling and conclusive call-to-action which a political production of this type requires.

In short, this film’s heart is firmly in the right place, but its head sometimes is not.

The Trust Fall: Julian Assange is released in selected UK cinemas from March 15th 2024.

'Americonned' film review: how we're conned by capitalism in the US and Britain
Tuesday, 05 March 2024 17:52

'Americonned' film review: how we're conned by capitalism in the US and Britain

Published in Films

Hi, my name is Brett Gregory, Associate Editor for the UK arts, culture and politics website, Culture Matters, and this is my review of Sean Claffey’s 2023 documentary, Americonned.

Throughout the 20th century Hollywood often hypnotised us with its mirages of the United States which were altogether beautiful, beguiling and bountiful, its diverse and dramatic population constantly reinventing itself as it seemingly surged as one towards the comfort and glory of the American Dream.

Sean Claffey’s documentary, Americonned, bluntly announces that that dream is now over as it charges us through an economic war set in the first quarter of 21st century North America.

Human casualties who look exactly like you and me litter the hideous housing projects in Florida, the basement apartments buried in New Jersey and the forgotten farms of Iowa, instantly reminding us of our own crumbling council estates in Newcastle, the boarded-up shops in Bolton and the bankruptcy of Birmingham City Council.


Ana (Florida): I'm looking for storage units. Next door, yesterday they put my friend out, my neighbour, and they had what I thought was a legal document, you know, to help them, you know, stay. But unfortunately, neither the sheriffs nor the management company would accept the paperwork and they, you know, kicked them out, and I don't want that to happen to me.

Elaine (Boston): With this job I'm not making enough. I have tried to apply for a loan through the SBA. That's a nightmare. I tried to apply for the PPP. They denied me for that because it was not the accurate information. I really want to give up because I'm just so tired. I don't know. I don't sleep much at night, so I just lay there and I think and I think and I think and I think, and I can't figure a way out. And I've always been able to figure a way out, and I can't. My kids literally hate me because I can't fix the problems of the world.

J. D. Scholten (Iowa): When I decided to move home several years ago, I looked in my hometown paper for a job for about a month, and the best job I could get is 15 bucks an hour and no benefits. Whether it's a McDonald's or Dollar General or whatever, they hire people for 10 / 12 bucks an hour and the profits go out of the district. That's not benefiting our society, that's not benefiting our communities. The economy isn't working for here. It benefits these multinational corporations.


Like a military dossier detailing the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces during World War II, this film manages its moral outrage with dark data that refutes the false flag of fiscal progress which is waved mechanically, and maniacally, by the mainstream media across our syndicated smart screens.

In line with the rise of workers’ productivity since the 1960s, for instance, the minimum wage should be at least $20 an hour in the US, but it isn’t, is it? Instead, it’s a sickening $7.25 an hour.

For the record, and according to the Trade Union Congress, the minimum wage in the UK should be £15 an hour, but instead it’s £11.54.

In turn, 70% of all adults who work full-time in North America have to suffer the humiliation of receiving government aid, while in the UK over 6.4 million people, including myself, are claiming Universal Credit.

Moreover, although the long-term average unemployment figures across the United States are around 5.7%, Marty Walsh, former Mayor of Boston, observes that the 6.1% unemployment rate for the black community and the 9.7% rate for the Latino community will never, ever improve.

So, where did all the money go? And what about all that hope?

Well, coincidentally, in 1987 there were 47 billionaires in the United States with a total net worth of $186 billion. In 2024 however we now have 759 billionaires with a combined wealth of – wait for it – $4.48 trillion.

Such figures, to any rational mind, are absolutely ridiculous.

It’s as if we’re playing a game of Monopoly in a locked room against Charles Manson, a machete in his right hand, a litre of tequila in his left.

But such a subhuman socio-economic state of affairs didn’t happen by accident now, did it?

Amongst other things Machiavellian men and women with incalculable capital, connections and control desired for it to be this way, they conspired for it to be this way, and they contrived for it to be this way.

But who was the original Svengali, the David Koresh, the Colonel Kurtz that first let this Wall Street savagery loose upon the streets and suburbs of California, Texas, Washington, Britain and the rest of the world?

According to Kurt Andersen, author of ‘Evil Geniuses’, and venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer:


Kurt Andersen (Author): Milton Friedman was an incredibly important figure. He was at the University of Chicago where he was at the centre of this group of libertarian economists, and they were really outside the mainstream.

Milton Friedman (Economist): Personally, of course I would get rid of social security. I've always said it was one of the great miracles of Madison Avenue packaging.

TV Interviewer: Would you do about the minimum wage law if you could?

Milton Friedman (Economist): I would abolish it.

Kurt Andersen (Author): Then in 1970 the New York Times magazine invited him to essentially summarise his beliefs in an article that they called ‘A Friedman Doctrine’.

Television Talk Show Host: Please welcome the Nobel Laureate in Economics, Milton Friedman.


Kurt Andersen (Author): He was making the case that for businesses nothing mattered but profits. Not the well-being of your employees, not the well-being of your communities, not the well-being of the larger society. All that matters was your profits – period.

Nick Hanauer (Venture Capitalist): He was making a claim about how human economies worked. That the more selfish business executives were the better it would be for everyone, and that's what people bought. The trick of trickle-down economics is not believing that when the rich get richer that's good for the economy; the evil part is the belief that when the poor get richer that will harm the economy. And that has been the basic message of our nation's economic system for the last 40 years.


But surely there are robust constitutional and legal mechanisms in place, which have been historically drawn up to prevent such wanton ransacking of the social contract between employers and their employees, citizens and their government?

Well, unfortunately, Americonned is quick to alert us that in the United States of America, the land of free enterprise and brave opportunism, even democracy is up for sale.


Kurt Andersen (Author): So how do you change things permanently? Well, you change law, you change the way the judiciary interpret what is constitutional or not. A big way that change is made is by billionaire right-wingers giving 50 million or 100 million each to all the best law schools. And, oh, by the way, let's also start this fraternity, mafia, whatever you want to call it.

CBSN Host: So what exactly is the Federalist Society?

Eric Lipton (Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist): The Federalist Society got started through law schools and it's grown into an organisation that has incredible influence in the United States.

MSNBC Host: Getting conservative judges on the bench has been a project for multiple decades.

Kurt Andersen (Author): Once you get both the law and Washington lawmakers, you could make sure that those laws were going to be declared constitutional or not by judges you have essentially bred in your laboratory through the Federalist Society.

Keith Olbermann (Countdown News Host): Today the Supreme Court of Chief Justice, John Roberts, declared that corporations had all the rights of people.

Bernie Sanders (US Politician): What you have right now is the undermining of American democracy as we know it.

Keith Olbermann (Countdown News Host): There are now no checks on the ability of corporations to decide our elections. None.


Although there are many heartbreaking and humanising speeches and scenarios in Americonned that any level-headed left-winger or progressive would be engaged and enraged by, the documentary is not without its faults.

For the sake of audience inclusion and narrative drive, for instance, Jeff Bezos is crudely cast as an obscene online Ozymandias, while his Amazon workforce are portrayed as his eternally suffering Egyptian slaves.

However, this basic binary, good versus evil approach overlooks the depth and breadth of the neoliberal tech-feudalist system which now operates above, below and within all supposed civilised societies, not just the United States, and which, it could be argued, accidentally engineers egregious entities like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

We’re talking here about a supremely organised interconnected network of institutions whose hourly purpose is to maintain absolute power by generating trillions of dollars via the day-to-day exploitation of the world’s 8 billion citizens.

Indeed, this global complex of control is of such incomprehensible scope and strength it would take centuries of round-the-clock resistance from millions of focused, educated, dedicated and resourced activists to even begin to attempt to dismantle it, let alone hold it to account.

Yep, we’re talking here about actual international governments, their presidents, senators, prime ministers and members of parliament; non-governmental organisations like the Clinton Global Initiative and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; think tanks like The Center for Strategic and International Studies in the US and Chatham House in the UK; elite universities like Yale, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge; global 2000 companies like JPMorgan Chase, Saudi Aramco and China Construction Bank; pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk that make our medicines; energy companies like ExxonMobil and Shell that drive our cars; chemical companies like BASF and Sinopec that clean our floors; media companies like Disney and Comcast that are supposed to entertain us; tech companies like Apple and Alphabet that definitely detain us; arms manufacturers; the military; the CIA, MI5, FBI; the police, the prison service….all protecting their – not our – trillions upon trillions of dollars.

Americonned is currently available to buy in the UK as a DVD through Amazon Prime Video. This has been the UK arts, culture and politics website, Culture Matters, and I’ve been Brett Gregory.


Saturday, 10 February 2024 10:28

Zombies and capitalism: George A. Romero's anti-capitalist critique, and his democratic, collaborative film-making

Published in Films

Interview Transcript

BG: Victor Halperin's movie ‘White Zombie’ from 1932, Jacques Tourneur’s ‘I Walked with a Zombie’ from 1943, Gordon Douglas' ‘Zombies on Broadway’ from 1945 … all early warning signs which were ignored by the great and the good alike until …

[‘Night of the Living Dead’ audio clip]

TF: Hi Brett, my name is Tom Fallows. I work for the American Film Institute and I'm the author of ‘George A. Romero’s Independent Cinema: Horror, Industry, Economics’ published by Edinburgh University Press.

BG: Welcome, Tom. So, born in the Bronx in New York in 1940, who was George A. Romero?

TF: George Romero is an American independent filmmaker best known for his series of zombie films which spanned from 1968 to 2009. Beginning with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Romero and his collaborators essentially invented the modern idea of the zombie.

BG: What do you mean by ‘the modern idea of the zombie’?

TF: Traditionally, zombies had their roots in Haitian folklore, where they were basically dead bodies bought back to life as slaves through magic. Romero removed this magical component and reimagined the zombie as a mindless ghoul hungry for human flesh. In the process he also transformed them into something more immediate. He embedded his creation into the heart of America, where for US audiences they were no longer some kind of existential other: they were deceased friends, neighbours and family members.

BG: Romero's ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in 1968 was much more than a horror film, wasn't it?

TF: ‘Night …’ was famous for being one of the first US films to have an African-American hero where his race is never mentioned. Romero insists that lead actor Dwayne Jones was only cast because he was the best actor among his friends, but race is crucial to the film. Jones's hero ‘Ben’ is fiercely intelligent and capable and ends up hiding from the zombie hordes in a farmhouse where he's trapped with a white patriarchal father who undercuts Ben's agency at every turn, and the film ends in kind of the starkest way possible with Ben surviving the zombies but killed by a white posse that had supposedly come to the rescue.

G Night of the Living Dead 1968

[‘Night of the Living Dead’ audio clip]

TF: As other critics have pointed out, the images in this black and white horror film were evocative of a harrowing real world violence at the time where bloody attacks and assassinations on civil rights leaders and protesters frequently played out in the streets and on the evening news. In that sense there are moments in ‘Night …’ with its gritty low-budget aesthetic that feel almost like a documentary, and demonstrated Romero, whether he admitted it then or not, as a socially conscious counterculture filmmaker with his finger on the pulse of what was going on in America.

BG: So how would you describe Romero's view on people, on humanity?

TF: A main theme of his film is really communities, and how people interact with each other. When its dystopic, such as in his zombie films, it's about the impossibility for humans to function collaboratively, and how this failure often results in our destruction. The human survivors of the zombie apocalypse can never work together, and this failure ultimately leads to catastrophe. This is a thread that I think is very, very current in 2024.

BG: People not helping one another during difficult times, motivated only by self-interest? I'm … I'm … shocked! So what role does Romero's use of explicit imagery play in all this? You know – the violence, the gore, the consumption of self-centred human beings?

TF: The key aesthetic in Romero's films is obviously the violence. It's the gore: his films often revel in scenes of carnage and zombies devouring human flesh in extreme close-up. While the violence in these films has been controversial, often resulting in X ratings or getting the films banned, it never feels gratuitous, it's never violence for violence’s sake. To me the gore is crucial to Romero's politics: it gives an edge to the satire, it presents his rhetoric as something fierce and exceptionally angry and urgent. In that way these films are almost like the best punk music in that they are confrontational, anarchic and disdainful of the status quo.

BG: You mentioned ‘these films’. Tell us a little about his follow-up feature ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

TF: So after ‘Night’s …’ critique of race and racism, the sequel ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in 1978 turned to issues of consumerism in a very pointed manner. It's set in a shopping mall where it's almost impossible to see the difference between the zombies and contemporary American shoppers. ‘They are us!’ is a key line in the film and a key line in Romero's zombie cinema. The survivors in ‘Dawn …’ meanwhile use the mall as a refuge and the comfort they get from its wares allows them to ignore what's happening in the outside world. Again, this is an overt plainly-stated satire on the direction Romero felt America was headed in the 1970s. Ultimately, the film's not about consumerist greed as some critics have stated, but it's about ignoring the problems we collectively face as a society.

G Dawn of the Dead 1978

[‘Dawn of the Dead’ audio clip]

BG: Now, what I find very interesting is that not only were ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ both shot in Pittsburgh, Romero's production company, Laurel Entertainment, was also situated in Pittsburgh, rather than, say, Hollywood.

TF: Pittsburgh was crucial. As an independent filmmaker it gave him the freedom to tell the stories that he wanted to tell, largely without the interference of Hollywood or corporate decision-making. To begin with he was working with low budgets and drawing upon the local business community for financing which really allowed him to fly under the radar and produce the kinds of bold, politically radical films that we've been talking about. It also gave him space to experiment with alternative working practices and, at the start of his career, his films were much more collaborative or egalitarian than traditional modes of filmmaking allow. Romero and collaborators, such as John Russo and Russ Streiner, were really striving for a democratic process of filmmaking. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ particularly was made in this uniquely collaborative style where, although Romero was credited as the director, all the key decision-making was done collectively by a core team – from editing to shot selection to production design to core aspects of the screenplay.

BG: It sounds like a socialist, cinematic utopia. What could have possibly gone wrong?

TF: Although it started as a grassroots organisation, the international success of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ – which earned over $55 million at the box office – really changed the shape of their operations. After ‘Dawn of the Dead’ the firm went public and it became beholden to shareholders and committee meetings, just the kind of bureaucracy that Romero tried to avoid and that ultimately pushed him away from the company in the mid-1980s.

BG: Capitalism crushes creative collaboration – Stop the Press! This said however, Romero, Laurel Entertainment and their horde of zombies actually did bring some genuine prosperity to Pittsburgh in more ways than one, didn't they?

TF: Although this experiment in egalitarian film production didn't last, Romero always valued the creative input of collaborators, and his company nurtured a base of film workers that ultimately helped transform Pittsburgh more widely. This base of trained professionals fed into Pittsburgh and transformed it into a leading film centre. It remains a leading film centre to this day with Hollywood productions such as ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ using that talent base in Pittsburgh to create these big-budget films.

BG: And, of course, Romero's cinematic influence spread much farther than Pennsylvania.

TF: In terms of Romero's impact on independent cinema more widely, this can be seen most evidently in horror. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ awakened filmmakers such as Toby Hooper with ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and Wes Craven with ‘Last House on the Left’ to not only the socio-political potential of the genre but also its affordability, demonstrating filmmaking as something that could be achieved outside of Hollywood, and even outside of New York, without compromising on their artistic vision or political ideology. ‘Halloween’ director, John Carpenter, famously once said if any independent filmmaker tells you that they weren't influenced by Romero and ‘Night of the Living Dead’, they're lying.

BG: And what about the young pretenders who have followed in his wake? Sprightly socialist transgressives, or lethargic capitalist copycats?

TF: Romero’s idea of the zombie has become dominant and it’s something we now see in everything from the AMC TV show, ‘The Walking Dead’, to Zac Snyder’s recent Netflix film, ‘Army of the Dead’. But what these recent films and TV shows tends to leave out is, as you say, the transgressive political address that has defined Romero's critical reputation.

BG: Finally, George A. Romero died in 2017. How will you remember him, Tom?

TF: Romero ended his career in Toronto, once again producing low-budget zombie films that were at once fiercely critical of American capitalism and deeply humanist in their approach to characters. I think the best thing that you can say about Romero is that he was always true to his countercultural roots and never stopped believing in the prospect of something better for America.

BG: Great to have had you on the show, man. Many thanks for your time and your insights.

TF: Thanks, Brett, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

BG: This has been the UK Desk for Arts Express with Dr. Tom Fallows, author of ‘George A. Romero’s Independent Cinema: Horror, Industry, Economics’ which is available now via the Edinburgh University Press website. Cheers!

G George A. Romero Horror Economics Industry 2023

‘Folk Horror on Film: Return of the British Repressed’
Thursday, 01 February 2024 09:33

‘Folk Horror on Film: Return of the British Repressed’

Published in Films

Brett Gregory interviews Dr. Louis Bayman, Associate Professor Film Studies at the University of Southampton

BG:  Even before the suicidal insanity of Brexit, the UK has always been regarded by the wider world as a very posh, very violent and very strange country: out of place and out of time, lost in its own history, locked inside one of its own dungeons.

Indeed, to acquire some sort of insight into the oddity of our people, our customs and our belief systems, one only needs to watch four films: ‘The Witchfinder General’ from 1968, the unsung classic ‘Cry of the Banshee’ from 1970, ‘Blood on Satan's Claw’ from 1971 and, of course, ‘The Wicker Man’ from 1973.

Folk horror The Wicker Man 1973

[Audio clip from ‘The Wicker Man’]

LB: Hi there, Brett. It's really nice to be here and thanks very much for inviting me to speak to your listeners at Arts Express. My name is Louis Bayman and I'm an Associate Professor in the Department of Film Studies at the University of Southampton here in the UK.

BG: Many thanks for lending us your time, Louis. So, folk horror.

LG: British cinema and, in fact, television in the late 1960s and 1970s contributed many of what's now recognised as being the classics of folk horror. The folk horror scholar, Dawn Keetley, in fact points out that most horror can in some way find its traces back in tales around the campfire, in folklore, in myths and legends that were particularly popular back in the earlier kinds of periods which folk horror often represents.

BG: And what about its cultural history?

LB: There had been an interest in folklore and the folkloric past at least since Victorian times. James Fraser and ‘The Golden Bough’ - actually not a really particularly scholarly reliable compendium of supposed pagan practices, but nevertheless one that was enormously influential on popular modern understandings of what might have existed before modernity in Britain. We're interested in looking back at the societies that we feel that we've supplanted as well, of course, as looking forward to the society that we may wish to become in the future.

BG: Fascinating. Unlike most other film genres folk horror is very much seated in British history, its internal conflicts and its desire for self-destruction.

LB: Folk horror stages times of social crisis. So ‘Witchfinder General’ is set in the 1640s during the English Revolution, ‘Blood on Satan's Claw’ is set in the very early 18th century, again in England, and there's frequent reference made to the Jacobite rebellions which were ongoing at the time. And then there's also a film called ‘Cry on the Banshee’ from 1970 which was set in Elizabethan England.

Folk Horror Cry of the Banshee 1970

[Audio clip from ‘The Cry of the Banshee’]

LB: These are films that are squarely about Britain itself and British history, and can't simply be solved by a group of peasants with pitchforks chasing after Frankenstein's monster. There's an important class element here as well because the gothic tends to be set in the castles of barons and counts; there's a whole other history about how the gothic is a product of a modern England which is going through the Industrial Revolution / capitalist liberalism but looking anxiously back on the aristocratic past that it hasn't entirely left behind. However, what you get with folk horror is much more of a concentration on the peasantry which, of course, made up the vast bulk of the population.

BG: What's distinctive about folk horror though? What separates it and, in my opinion, elevates it beyond other horror sub-genres?

LB: Whereas in the traditional gothic you might have vampires, werewolves, other kinds of ghouls that threaten the community from outside, in folk horror what's distinctive is that it is the community itself that is the source of violence, of anguish and fear. In folk horror it's civilisation itself which is the problem: its belief systems, systems of ritual, systems of punishment and justice which are actually particularly threatening. So it's not a fear of savagery but actually of customs, of lifestyles, of arable agricultural land – rather than the wilderness that we might associate with the sublime of the gothic – and it's a fear of a particular form of education and social development; fears of how what is totemic for one society could be taboo for another.

BG: I remember sitting in the living room in the 1980s and watching ‘Psychomania’ on the television, hypnotised by its premise that with a little bit of witchcraft and self-belief suicide and death were just the beginning. However, these topics of teenage interest in our current happy-clappy corporate culture are now seemingly verboten.

LG: What I think is most radical is that folk horror removes any sense of there being a stable set of values at all, or any normative social order; both traditional society, pagan or cult worship and modernity are all shown to be equally mad. In ‘The Wicker Man’ Howie’s Christianity is just one form of ritual fanaticism which removed from the social structures that give it meaning and give it force seems perhaps to be just as ridiculous as the veneration of the old gods of the pagan community that he finds himself among.

So I think that folk horror, actually what's most disturbing about it, is the way that it points to how some societies and belief systems actively engage in ritual sacrifice. Other forms of social organisation might engage in corporisation, in the enclosures of the land, in persecution of heresy. And our adherence to one or another of those belief systems is not based on their fundamental rightness, but is based simply on accidents of history: the things that we find right and proper are considered by people from other cultures as horrific and vice versa.

Folk horror The Blood on Satans Claw 1971

[Audio clip from ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’]

BG: And, symbolically, we see such sacrifices played out over and over again when, for example, a prime minister is voted out of office. The right-wing mass media leading us to believe that this is some sort of ceremonial blood transfusion, but it isn't: as a country, as a collection of countries, we're actually dying, rotting on a throne like a Francis Bacon painting.

LB: There's a sense that maybe a certain vitality or a certain form of British pre-eminence is now slipping away and in that all sorts of other alternative forms of social organisation could come to the fore. And as well as this I think decolonisation is extremely important. No longer is weirdness and foreignness located in far-flung places across the rest of the world but actually within the British Isles itself, perhaps we're actually forced to look at ourselves now that we're no longer an imperial power.

This is the same kind of time that E. P. Thompson was talking about the rise of the English working class, a book which, in particular, is about the decline of handicraft, artisanal trades and ways of life, the very things that folk horror is particularly interested. Tom Nairn was writing about the breakup of Britain, and one of the articles, one of the chapters in the book that we've just co-edited, by Beth Carroll is about the uncomfortable position that Celtic cultures play within a broader understanding of Britain, and it draws attention to how many folk horrors are set, for example, in Wales, in Cornwall and in Scotland. So while Tom Nairn was writing at the end of the 1970s about a future breakup of Britain, in some ways we can see folk horror already in the decade prior to that kind of anticipating this notion.

John Berger, the Marxist art critic, had caused a scandal with his television show from 1972, ‘Ways of Seeing’, where he de-mythologises landscape painting by showing the ways that it actually asserts the dominance of a landholding class as being beautiful and as being part of nature, rather than the actual violent social process of enclosures and corporisation that it really was.

So there's a very similar demythologising impulse there in the films of folk horror which, as I say, on the one hand can be related to the counterculture of the late 1960s or a sense that society in general is perhaps falling apart or disintegrating, there's a great deal of disorder, and maybe folk horror is a fear of that sort of disorder; but underlying it even further a more relativised place and understanding Britain's own place within history, a recognition of the violence that formed British history and perhaps also a certain insecurity about what exactly Britain's future might be.

BG: It's such an all-encompassing and deeply involving film genre. For those who wish to investigate further, as well as your book, what would you recommend?

Folk horror Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched 2021

LB: Any of your listeners who are fans of the genre might have seen the recent documentary, ‘Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched’, which is a three-hour long documentary that sprawls across a hundred years of film history from one part of the globe to another, and seems to pretty much cover everything that it possibly can do with any kind of sense of strangeness that might be attached to prior or rural beliefs and ways of life.

BG: And in conclusion, Louis, how would you personally sum up British folk horror?

LB: So I would say ultimately it speaks to a certain confusion about who we are as a society and where we're going. I don't think that there's the same kind of faith in progress that there was in the Victorian era or in the middle of the 20th century, and so folk horror speaks to a certain fear and an anxiety about social change, but without progress where are we going as a nation, as a people, as a class? What is there left for us to believe in?

BG: I couldn't have put it better myself, Louis. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Folk Horror on Film Return of the British Repressed 2023

This has been the UK Desk for Prairie Miller’s Arts Express with Dr Louis Bayman, co-editor with Professor Kevin Donnelly of ‘Folk Horror on Film’ which is currently available to buy through the Manchester University press website here. Cheers.

This interview originally appeared on Arts Express via WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York on January 31st. Brett Gregory is an independent filmmaker and broadcaster based in Greater Manchester. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Social media: @seriousfeather. Website:

Grim, glorious visions of broken Britain: a review of the film 'Tish', and the photography of Tish Murtha
Wednesday, 17 January 2024 12:10

Grim, glorious visions of broken Britain: a review of the film 'Tish', and the photography of Tish Murtha

Published in Films

Brett Gregory reviews 'Tish', directed by Paul Sng, 2023, and presents some of Tish Murtha's photographs

'My use of photography and the approach to it is based on the conviction that the fundamental value of the medium is its capacity to provide direct, accurate and vital records of the conditions, events and experiences that shape our lives.'

This is a quote from one of Patricia ‘Tish’ Murtha’s essays as narrated by Maxine Peake in Paul Sng’s observational and performative documentary, ‘Tish’, from 2023. In turn, it can be understood to be at the core of her socialist agenda as a working-class photographer and social realist documentarian.

As a 52-year-old working-class filmmaker myself, it’s depressing to see that the desolate council estate where she was raised in Elswick, Newcastle, was very similar in style and content to the miserable maze of treacherous terraced houses where I grew up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. Places where poverty, illiteracy, alcoholism, drugs, child abuse, domestic violence, vandalism and boredom were the main attractions.

Ex Miner New Found out Pub Newport 1977 Ella Murtha

Ex-Miner, New Found Out Pub, Newport, 1977 © Ella Murtha. In 1976 Tish Murtha, with support from her tutors Dennis Birkwood and Mick Henry, secured a funded place on a photography course at Newport College of Art and Design run by David Hurn. The New Found Out Pub on Cambrian Road in Newport was notorious for serving lumpy cider.

While the working-class residents of Elswick were ravaged by the descent and dismantling of the steel and shipbuilding industries during the latter part of the 20th century, Mansfield, a mining community, was decimated and deformed by the Thatcher-led pit closures in the early to mid-1980s. This mining community had been composed almost entirely of regional migrants, particularly from Scotland, Wales and, coincidentally, Tyneside. Indeed, the older lads I sometimes hung around with outside the local shops during my mid-teens – Carl, JJ, Biddy, Kev and Mozz – were all Geordies.

In the summer of 1985, I remember that JJ saved up enough money to get a tattoo of his beloved Newcastle United on his arm, but when he peeled the scab off after a few days it read ‘Newcastle Uniten’ instead. It seemed that even the tattoo artist in town was illiterate.

Anyway, we all laughed and poked fun at him, and he told us to ‘Ga'an away or a'll boot the shite oot ya!’ before storming off home. A week later and he then triumphantly reappeared outside of the shops, pulled up his sleeve and revealed to us that ‘Uniten’ was no more, had never even happened, for it had now been replaced by a new tattoo of a big red rose. I asked him what the ‘Newcastle Rose’ stood for, but he said, ‘It divvn't matter, like. It looks canny. The lasses will gan mad for it.’

Around this time the accent, dialect and earthy humour of the North East had also begun to pervade wider popular culture in the UK. There was the highly successful television series, ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’, the widely read ‘Viz’ comic, the volcanic rise of the footballer, Paul Gascoigne, and, of course, the ubiquitous and inimitable Newcastle Brown Ale. The lads told me, stony-faced, that there was actually a wing in Newcastle General Hospital where men who were addicted to ‘Newkie Brown’ received treatment, and I believed them.

They never told me about Tish Murtha from Elswick though. If she wasn’t on the telly with Terry Wogan, or in a band on Top of the Pops, or running the 1500 metres at the Olympics, how would they have known about her? How would they have known that she was a photographer, or that her work mattered, or that she was even alive? How would they have known that, in blazing black and white, she was documenting and dignifying dead-end lives like ours on a council estate which was just as dark and derelict as this one?

Glenn and Paul on the Washing Line Youth Unemployment 1981 Ella Murtha 

Glenn and Paul on the Washing Line, Youth Unemployment (1981) © Ella Murtha

'[O]ne has only to look at football grounds to see how the evils of extreme right-wing groups are being preached to youngsters who seek some diversion from the misery of unemployment.' – Mr Robert Brown, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne West, House of Commons Debate, ‘Redundancy Fund Bill’ (Feb 1981)

Flats with their windows all boarded up; the bus stop smashed to smithereens; the burnt out car at the back of Spar; the drunk uncle who staggered home from the social club on a Sunday afternoon; the stepdad who combed margarine into his hair because he couldn’t afford Brylcreem; the kids on the bottom estate who set fires in the park and danced in the ashes; the majorettes who twirled their maces and tossed them up higher than houses; the girls who pushed prams down the road as if they were ploughing a field; the mum of three who answered the door wearing sunglasses because she had two black eyes.

Sng’s documentary highlights that the main reason why people knew nothing about Tish Murtha and her photography was because she never received any financial support from the dead-eyed decision-makers who work for opaque, undemocratic organisations like Arts Council England.

Why would she? This country’s establishment doesn’t understand, doesn’t respect and doesn’t care about working-class culture, its narratives, artefacts, experiences or its history. It never has and it never will. Working-class creatives are regarded as unsophisticated, untrustworthy, unruly and, much more importantly, unconnected. Butchers, bakers and candlestick makers gripping onto cheap, borrowed or stolen pens, paints and plectrums.

Kids on Spare Ground Youth Unemployment 1981 Ella Murtha 

Kids on Spare Ground, Youth Unemployment (1981) © Ella Murtha

‘On the whole, reports Tish [Murtha], the only generation who understand these youngsters are pensioners, perhaps because they remember the Depression years.’ - Blakelaw School’s ‘Roundabout Journal’ (1981)

Tish got used to this kind of letter:

‘Many thanks for your recent application for funding. We regret to inform you that your project proposal has been unsuccessful on this occasion. If you would like more specific feedback …’

And so you either fund yourself or you just give up.

Twenty years ago I was able to choose the former because I’d secured a job as a lecturer in film and cultural studies at a college in Manchester. Out of my salary I self-funded, self-distributed and self-promoted numerous campaign and charity promos, music videos for struggling acts, an international short documentary and two documentary features. All of which received absolutely no financial assistance, exhibition or promotional support from publicly-funded entities like the British Film Institute, Film Hub North or HOME cinema.

In turn, my debut working-class feature film, ‘Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist’, was part-funded by my redundancy money between 2016 and 2022, and the rest was paid for by loans, credit cards and an overdraft which I couldn’t afford.

Each year students used to ask me:

‘How do you find the time to make all these films when you’re teaching us as well?’ And I’d reply, ‘It’s easy: never get married, never have kids, never get a mortgage, never own a car and never go on holiday. See? There’s plenty of time.’

‘That’s well sad, Brett. Why won’t the government fund you? Or the council?’

‘Because they don’t fund people like me, and I haven’t got the time to play their silly games.’

And you don’t have to take my word on this either. Following her time at the influential Side Gallery in Newcastle, Tish Murtha wrote a letter to Dennis Birkwood, her college tutor at Newcastle College of Arts and Technology, which Maxine Peake also narrates in the documentary:

‘I left the Side Gallery for a number of reasons, but mainly because of their peculiar attitude to me and my work – they wanted to manipulate it to fit their group philosophy … And the boss’ girlfriend was getting really spiteful and bitchy towards us, damaging expensive photographic work … ‘accidentally on purpose’. So, as they obviously thought it was all a big joke, and I should be grateful for any situation they offered, I told them all where to stick their job and what an offensive, incestuous little clique they were.’

In 2013 an exhausted Tish Murtha had to die from a brain aneurysm while on the dole for her photography to be finally recognised by national and international cultural commentators for what it is – the work of a major 20th century artist.

Karen on Overturned Chair Youth Unemployment 1981 Ella Murtha 

Karen on Overturned Chair, Youth Unemployment (1981) © Ella Murtha

Tish Murtha took a number of photographs of Karen Lafferty which appear in the 'Youth Unemployment' series. This particular image, which Tish would playfully refer to as 'Saturday night out on the dole', is currently a part of a collection at the National Portrait Gallery.

Her gloriously grim visions of broken buildings, broken people and broken Britain were ignored by the mainstream during her lifetime because they revealed truths about this country that simply made the authorities uneasy, but not ashamed: the inequality, the hypocrisy and the cruelty.

Of course, the self-entitled and self-serving right-wing establishment which the UK is cursed with relies upon, and revels in, keeping working-class culture in its place, down in its oubliette, year after year, decade after decade. At the very least it reminds the rest of the population of what to expect if they too decide to step out of line and speak up. What is more chilling however is that, while protected and empowered by the ideological and repressive state apparatus surrounding them, this establishment’s key historical figures have the experience, resources, personnel and desire to continue this war of attrition until the very end of time.

It is their country after all. For example, only just this week the official portrait of King Charles III was unveiled and, in turn, an £8 million scheme was announced by the Tory Cabinet Office to permit schools, police stations, hospitals and councils to request a free A3-size, oak-framed copy to hang wherever they see fit.

£8 million! Following her death, aged 57, Tish Murtha received a £100 rebate from her energy company.

She wasn’t a working-class photographer. She was a war photographer.

Kids Jumping on to Mattresses Youth Unemployment 1981 Ella Murtha 

Kids Jumping on to Mattresses, Youth Unemployment (1981) © Ella Murtha

With Mark Murtha, one of Tish's brothers, holding on to a ventriloquist dummy (bottom left), this photograph now features in an exhibition at Tate Britain. As her daughter, Ella Murtha, tells us in the documentary: 'To actually say that Tate Britain has acquired me mam's work for a permanent collection ... The whole thought of that is just quite overwhelming really.'


Paul Sng’s documentary ‘Tish’ (2023), which chronicles the life and times of the late North East photographer, Patricia Murtha, is currently screening at selected cinemas across the UK, and is available internationally via the Curzon Home Cinema website.

Please also visit, which is run by her daughter, Ella Murtha, for further information about her exceptional mother. Thanks to Ella for permission to use Tish's photographs.

Thanks also for additional research for this review, by Jack Clarke / @ClarkeJ98

A lurid labyrinth of bestial bureaucracy: Julian Assange and Wikileaks
Friday, 12 January 2024 13:04

A lurid labyrinth of bestial bureaucracy: Julian Assange and Wikileaks


Brett Gregory interviews Dr. Matthew Alford, Lecturer in Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath (UK) 

BG: Hi, this is the UK Desk for Arts Express, and my name is Brett Gregory. Antonio Gramsci, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Bertrand Russell, Benazir Bhutto … Just a handful of 20th century citizens who were incarcerated by their respective governments because they dug deep, took a stand and said, ‘No!’ No to injustice, no to fascism, and no to war. This evening I'm joined by Dr. Matthew Alford from the University of Bath in the UK who is here to discuss one of the most important political prisoners of the 21st century. Matt, please tell us more.

MA: Julian Assange is 52 years old. He's Australian, he studied maths and computing and then founded WikiLeaks in 2006. I'd say perhaps the most neutral term for Julian Assange's profession is ‘publisher’. Personally, I prefer to call him a ‘freedom fighter’.

Julian Assange

BG: WikiLeaks is a term which is often bandied about by the mainstream media, but how did it actually work?

MA: WikiLeaks was important because it had a specially designed dropbox that allowed whistleblowers to post secret documents without anyone, including WikiLeaks itself, knowing their actual identity. This was designed in order for everyone to be kept safe from prosecution. It was a brilliant invention.

BG: And why is whistleblowing so important?

MA: Whistleblowing is part of democratising any organisation, and it's really, really important, especially for organisations that are as secret as the CIA and NSA.

BG: So, what kind of information did Julian Assange release by way of WikiLeaks?

MA: Julian Assange's revelations implicate powerful government and corporate villains worldwide in things like illegal surveillance and false-flag military attacks. And the charges that are against him are for much of his best and his most famous work, including footage of the US Army when they slowly and deliberately killed 12 innocent people, including several journalists, from the safety of a helicopter gunship. He was instrumental in putting that video out online, to hold the American military to account.

BG: And I'm assuming the consequences for him were extremely dire?

MA: Julian Assange was charged under the US Espionage Act of 1917 back in 2010. He's accused of working with army private, Chelsea Manning, to obtain and disclose classified information.

BG: Tell us a little more about Chelsea Manning, another name which the mainstream media has conveniently forgotten.

MA: Chelsea Manning leaked a lot of material when she was a private in the army, and she did this for moral reasons. She was imprisoned for several years herself. Eventually she was released following a plea bargain with Barack Obama. Chelsea Manning is a real hero for what she did. Personally, I'm unclear on why she has been so silent about Julian Assange's case for quite some time. It might be that she's had to sign some kind of gagging order, I don't know. That would just be speculation on my part.

BG: The plot thickens ...

MA: There's been a huge clampdown on these sorts of leaks from the Obama presidency onwards. One study found that almost all non-government representatives thought that the Espionage Act had been used ‘inappropriately in leak cases that have a public interest component.’ One journalist says that it's almost impossible to mount a defence against charges under the Espionage Act because defendants are not allowed to use the term ‘whistleblower’; they're not allowed to mention the First Amendment, and they're not allowed to explain the reasons for their actions. The US government wants to get Julian Assange using the Espionage Act, but this would be the first time in over a hundred years that that legislation has been used against a publisher.


Julian Asange at the Ecuadorian embassy

BG: A lurid labyrinth of bestial bureaucracy. But Assange managed to escape, didn't he, for a while at least?

MA: In 2012, Julian Assange hid in an embassy in London, and he stayed there for the next seven years. He was forcibly removed in 2019 and, ever since, he's been in Britain's top security prison, Belmarsh. All of Julian Assange's exercise is indoors; he has not seen the sun for five years, and his feet haven't touched free soil in nearly 12 years. Library books, where he currently resides, are deemed a fire hazard. Julian Assange married his brilliant lawyer, Stella, in 2022 while in prison. For their wedding they were not allowed to use the chapel, and his children weren't even allowed to give him a daisy chain that they had made: it was deemed a security risk. The food available in Belmarsh consists of, quote, ‘porridge for breakfast, thin soup for lunch, and not much else for dinner,’ according to his latest visitor.

Julian has been in Belmarsh longer than any other prisoner, apart from one old man. He's actually lost his freedom for longer than Solzhenitsyn did when he was sent to the Soviet gulag. Julian Assange does currently have a radio, but this is only because one of his prominent friends pointed out to the prison warden that even Hezbollah allows their hostages access to radios. The authorities, even up to the top judicial level, formally accept that Julian Assange is a suicide risk. They don't seem to care; in fact, if anything, they seem to be encouraging it. I find it quite heartbreaking that the last photograph of Julian Assange is of him in court while he happens to be having a mini-stroke.

BG: That's a horrific and inhuman timeline, and in the 'Land of Hope and Glory' as well. In 2022 the then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel of the right-wing Conservative Party approved the extradition of Assange to the US in order to face the country's judiciary and penal system. From your descriptions though, can this really be worse than Belmarsh prison? Isn't the United States the land of the free and the home of the brave? Hasn't Julian Assange been brave?

MA: There are all sorts of ways to make his life worse in prison, to make anyone's life worse in prison, and those could well occur if he is deported, if he is extradited to the United States. So, for example, Julian Assange is currently isolated in his cell for 23 hours a day, which is really, really bad. But if he goes to a supermax facility in the United States, it could be even worse.

For example, it's likely that the CIA would prevent him from handling paper. I mean, it's possible; it does happen to several dozen other prisoners who are there on national security grounds. You know, just be shown a letter through a glass screen. In fact, the British prison Belmarsh already did this once a couple of years ago. In the depths of winter, they said, ‘Okay, fill in this form so that you can acquire your clothes,’ but, due to coronavirus regulations, he was not actually permitted to touch the pen and paper to put in that application. So, there are all sorts of grotesque, perverse things that can be done to a human being when they are incarcerated, and that situation could easily get a lot worse for Julian Assange if he goes to the United States, where the prison system is, I think, widely accepted to be more brutal than even the British cases.

BG: Aren't political cases like this explicitly banned under the UK-US Extradition Treaty? Is international law being tampered with here?

MA: Yeah, I mean, the extradition treaty does explicitly ban extradition for political reasons, except for in cases that involve things like murder. But, you know, law can always be stretched, it could be repurposed for political reasons, and when it comes down to it, the national security state in the United States and in the UK despise Julian Assange. It's almost kind of personal. They're prepared to break all laws, they're prepared to break all conventions just to mess him up. I think standard borders, things like sovereign jurisdiction, Australia's rights, Ecuador's rights, don't matter a jot to organisations like the CIA.

WikiLeaks Logo

BG: What about freedom of speech? What about our right to know how our societies are being governed?

MA: I mean, it's always been standard practice for journalists to receive secret information, and they can use that secret information to hold powerful organisations, particularly the government, to account. If the government is allowed to repurpose current laws to prosecute a publisher, that means that in the future, they'll have set a precedent; they'll be able to do whatever they want in the name of ‘national security’. And it would take a phenomenally brave whistleblower or publisher right now to follow in Julian's footsteps, having seen the price that he's paid.

BG: That's genuinely chilling; it's like we're discussing the Gestapo or the Stasi police or something. Anyway, so from a personal perspective, what does Julian Assange mean to you, Matt?

MA: Julian Assange is a symbol, a symbol of freedom, and a symbol of resistance. But he is also a human being in his own right. Even from this British prison where he currently languishes – Belmarsh in London – he's still sending out regularly, whenever he can, messages of love and hope. I like this quote from him: ‘If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.’

BG: Exactly. We need to keep the faith. So what action can people take? What can they do so they don't feel, you know, useless?

MA: For more information, I'd suggest going to the website That's the best place to be active, to support, and to coordinate both online and on the streets. You can also contact me on Facebook if you like: Matt Alford: War, Laughs, and Lies. If you want some more specifics, I'll be doing a running commentary about Julian Assange and other international political events.

I'd just like to add, and this comes from Stella Assange's website: ‘Saving Julian Assange is about saving ourselves. What happens to him cannot be undone. It would be the end of our right to know and the end of our democracies.’ So please gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and in cities around the world, on the 20th to the 21st of February at 8:30 am and demand Julian's freedom.

BG: That's the Royal Courts of Justice in London on February 20th to the 21st from 8:30 am. This has been a very sobering yet very urgent interview, Matt. Many thanks for your time. 

This interview originally appeared on Arts Express via WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York.

Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA took Hollywood
Saturday, 30 December 2023 12:46

Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA took Hollywood

Published in Films

Brett Gregory, UK Desk for Arts Express on WBAI-FM Radio (New York) interviews Dr. Matthew Alford, Lecturer in Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath (UK)

BG: Hi, this is the UK Desk for Arts Express, and my name is Brett Gregory. The French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, outlines for us how our values, desires, attitudes and tastes are shaped by wider capitalist-consumer society and culture on a daily basis. He calls this network of influence the ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ and it includes the ‘soft power’ of, for instance, the media, education, religion and the family.

In turn, Althusser also identifies how this societal framework of influence is enforced by the ‘Repressive State Apparatus’. That is to say, the ‘hard power’ of, for example, the military, the police, the judiciary and the prison system.

On this evening's show we're going to be discussing a 2022 independent documentary called ‘Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and the CIA took Hollywood’, an incendiary exposé which reveals how Althusser’s ideas have been combined to produce propagandist entertainment products like Paramount Pictures ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, Amazon Prime's ‘Jack Ryan’ series and Activision's ‘Call of Duty’. But first let's listen to the trailer.

MA: Hi, Brett, my name is Matt Alford. I teach at the University of Bath in the UK and I specialise in the politicisation of media, especially film, and particularly as it relates to British and American foreign policies.

BG: Nice one, Matt. So please tell us, as ordinary citizens and consumers, what are we up against?

Department of Defense Seal

MA: The United States Department of Defense has got a budget of $800 billion. It's an obscene amount of money to waste and, you know, there have been all these stories for decades about, you know, the Pentagon spending $640 on a toilet seat and a $1,000 on nacho cheese warmer and things like that. It's a hugely wasteful organisation. It’s not that it's just wasteful and splurging money around but actually that it really quite actively and desperately needs to spend a lot of money on PR, and that's not just to attract personnel but, I think, that it needs to con the whole world and the American public of course, most importantly, into thinking that the American national security state is a force for global stability and it isn't, it just isn't; it hardly ever is. The United States is very commonly a destabilising force in many conflicts.

BG: And what would motivate a powerful governmental entity like the Department of Defense to carry out such a sustained PR assault on us? Haven't they got actual wars to fight and real spies to catch?

MA: I think this need for PR was perhaps most clear in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the whole National Security State started pouring money into PR because at that point there was even less rationale for these heavily state-subsidised taxpayer systems of domination to exist because there was no enemy. It seems a little bit different now because we're in a multipolar world and have been since 2012, maybe 2017, but in the 1990s there was a real opportunity to have developed and forged peaceful alternatives. I mean, there still is but it was extremely clear at that point and I always think it's such a great tragedy and it's, you know, looking at international relations over the past thirty years has just been like watching a slow motion car crash.

National Security Cinema 2017

BG: And what motivated you personally to pursue this research topic, to co-author your 2017 book ‘National Security Cinema’ with Tom Secker and to co-produce Roger Stahl’s ‘Theaters of War’ documentary?

MA: About twenty years ago I began a lengthy private correspondence with Noam Chomsky, the world's most celebrated anarchist and philosopher, so it was really that experience which drove my research. But that said, there were definitely some politically distinct films around that time, right at the start of my research process.

So, for example, ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ which was set in Bosnia, ‘Munich’ which was about Israel-Palestine and ‘Hotel Rwanda’; and these were all received as moderate, uncontroversial mainstream movies. It was only really when I took a more forensic look at them that I could see that they were actually consistent with much more dubious government policies, and they actually had imperialist ideas quite subtly baked into them.

So, take an example like ‘Three Kings’, this anti-war comedy set in Iraq; it starred Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney, a really good movie. But as good as it was the underlying message of the film was that the United States had been morally inconsistent in the first Gulf War of 1991 and, by implication, this left open the idea that a full-scale American invasion or Allied invasion that advanced all the way to Baghdad would have been better than what they actually did in the real world. And so that meant that when the film's director met George W. Bush in 1999, way before 9/11, and he said to Bush, ‘Look, my film is going to challenge your father's legacy on Iraq’, a young George W. Bush was able to shoot back, ‘Well, I'm going to have to finish the job then aren't I?’

Triumph of the Will Riefenstahl 1935

BG: Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 documentary ‘Triumph of the Will’ is often cited as fetishizing Nazism. Is Hollywood fetishizing US imperialism?

MA: In a hundred years’ time I doubt that cultural historians will be discussing ‘Triumph of the Will’ in the same breath as ‘Transformers 12’. I mean, the Nazis were systematically and deliberately glorifying a particular man, a totalitarian system, so I do think there is a bit of a difference there. To be fair though ‘Top Gun 2’ really does have stronger echoes of genuine fascism, I'd say.

In my country the two most well-known film journalists are Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo. Now they talked about ‘Top Gun 2’ and they loved it and, in fact, they scornfully dismissed any political concerns about it. They said ‘it's a fictional country in a fictional story and it doesn't matter. It's a cartoon, it exists in a cartoony world’ and then they put on these sort of silly voices to mock people like me who read the film politically. I think it's legitimate to enjoy a film on its own merits but I don't think it's good to ignore constantly the systematic application of military PR across thousands of film and TV products and also, I think, particularly in the case of ‘Top Gun 2’, I mean State involvement in that film was so in your face I think that it's kind of weird to ignore or dismiss it.

BG: Surely if the military are at it then so also are, for example, the police. I mean people love their crime dramas.

MA: Absolutely, Brett. Yeah, I completely agree. I think it's reasonable to include the FBI and major police forces like the LAPD and the NYPD in our definition of a security state. If we include the police, the numbers of productions supported by the security state does zip up a little bit and it takes us well past 10,000.

BG: Is it just movies and TV shows? What about video games which are played for hours on end by teenagers in the supposed safety and security of their bedrooms?

MA: Yeah, there are other entertainment products targeted and integrated into the national security state. There is reliable evidence to indicate that the US and UK militaries have supported ‘Doom’, for example. ‘America's Army’ was the most downloaded game for a long time in the early 2000s. ‘Rainbow 6’, ‘Homefront’, ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Medal of Honour’.

There was a game called ‘Mercenaries 2: World in Flames’ which requires the gamer to take part in an invasion of Venezuela because this Hugo Chavez socialist-type leader has used nuclear weapons on the Allies. Now the company that made that had previously developed training aids for the US Army, but claims it didn't cooperate with the Government on that particular product. You know, that kind of idea Venezuela nuking someone – even having nuclear weapons – it's just ridiculous and it's actually a plot device that was used in the Amazon Prime show ‘Jack Ryan’, that hugely popular series - it's insane threat inflation.

BG: But isn't it just entertainment? Aren't we all grown adults free to make up our own minds? Or does history tell us different?

MA: Entertainment can really exert a pivotal impact on society. There's a historian called John H. Franklin and he said that without ‘Birth of a Nation’ from 1915 – the explicitly racist movie – he said that without that film the Ku Klux Klan would not have been reborn. If we talk about the US military in particular, I'd say that if these systems weren't in place, I'd say that within a few years I think the US would probably lose all legitimacy and wouldn't be able to use its force overseas. Which is not far off really what happened for a few years in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War.

BG: Surely the US is not the only guilty nation? Surely the UK, for instance, also has its fat fingers stuck in such political pies?

MA: Well, I have looked at other national cinematic systems a little bit and in the UK the Ministry of Defence we now know has worked on hundreds of entertainment productions including films like ‘King’s Men’, ‘KickAss’, various James Bond movies and we are examining the British case now systematically, which is being led by a PhD researcher. What I'd say though is that while it is obviously a good idea to pick apart and generally oppose all propaganda, by any measure – and that's military size, film industry size, foreign policy ambitions, global cultural influence – the United States just dwarfs everybody.

BG: So how can concerned citizens and their families actually watch your documentary ‘Theaters of War’?

MA: Well, contact me on Facebook or on YouTube. I'm on Dr Matt Alford ‘War, Laughs and Lies’. That's if you've got any problems trying to acquire the film, and if you're a student you should be able to find it for free through your library on the system called Kanopy.

BG: Great stuff, Matt. Powerful subject matter. Let's hope people will now think twice about what they pay to entertain themselves.

MA: Thanks very much, Brett. Great talking to you.

BG: This has been the UK desk for Arts Express with Dr. Matthew Alford from the University of Bath, and I've been Brett Gregory. Cheers.

This interview originally appeared on Arts Express via WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York.

A taste for paradox and contradiction: a review of 'Godard Cinema' by Cyril Leuthy
Thursday, 21 December 2023 10:22

A taste for paradox and contradiction: a review of 'Godard Cinema' by Cyril Leuthy

Published in Films

Cyril Leuthy composes his posthumous portrait of one of cinema’s great enigmas by entwining, with painstaking precision, original and archived interviews, film clips, newsreels, epistolary recitations and scripted voiceovers. The resulting narrative is totally and memorably Godard, running at 24 frames per second with a clear beginning, middle and end, in that order.

The narrator reminds us that the late Jean-Luc Godard produced over 140 feature films, documentaries and shorts in his lifetime as a part of his absolute quest for cinema, to capture its purity, its humanity, its incredulity, and that he sacrificed his psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing at the altar of the seventh art as a consequence.

As Godard himself comments ‘As a boy I was already in mourning for myself, my one and only companion’ and, later in life, ‘Does the fact that I make images instead of having children prevent me from being a human being?’

He was born into privilege in Paris in 1930, his father, Paul, was a doctor and his mother, Odile, worked for a bank. The family was ‘fairly intellectual’ but, as his father observes, Jean-Luc ‘always wanted to be apart. He wanted to follow his thought, only his thought’.

In 1946 he went to study at the Lycée Buffon in Paris and, through his family’s connections, mixed with members of the cultural elite. He failed his baccalaureate exam first time around in 1948, but then passed in 1949. He subsequently registered to study anthropology at the prestigious Sorbonne University but, unsurprisingly, never attended.

‘When I was at the Sorbonne,’ Godard explains in Leuthy’s film, ‘little by little I became interested in cinema. I discovered film clubs and the Cinémathèque Française, and I met guys like Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer, Chabrol …’

By 1952 he was writing criticism for Cahiers du Cinéma, the famous French film journal which fathered the now infamous auteur theory. Here he praised the gloomy romanticism of North American directors such as Nicolas Ray and Howard Hawks as opposed to the formalistic artfulness of Orson Welles and William Wyler.

His mother then died in an accident in 1954 but his family didn’t wish for him to attend her funeral. As his sister, Veronique, explains, ‘Making films was not considered in the family line, where you study, you become this or that. But he was considered as a so-called artist …’

Breathless Godard 1960

Godard’s creative response to such an opprobrious body blow was to knock the wind out of everybody else in sight with his debut feature film, ‘Breathless’, in 1960. A cool and casual iconoclastic collage of pop culture, jump cuts and discontinuity, the French New Wave film starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and introduced the subject of Godard’s cinema as cinema itself and, naturally, cinema adored him in return.

‘Will Godard soon be more popular than the Pope,’ opined Francois Truffaut, his friend and fellow director, ‘that is to say just a little less than The Beatles?’

Fame and adoration were simply not enough for the impish Godard, however. ‘I have a taste for paradox and a spirit of contradiction,’ he wrote. ‘The new wave is criticised for only showing people in bed, so I’m going to show people who are in politics and don’t have time to go to bed.’

The Little Soldier Godard 1963

Thus he shot and released ‘The Little Soldier’, also in 1960. Starring his new wife and onscreen icon of the French New Wave, Anna Karina, the film explored the use of torture during the Algerian War of Independence and, consequently, it was banned in France until 1963.

Although his commercial successes continued with, for instance, ‘Contempt’, starring Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance, a large bright aperture had opened itself up within Godard and through it he could see that his immediate future lay not simply in the aesthetics of moviemaking, but also in its politics: that is to say, in Marxist critiques of the middle class, capitalism, consumerism and, following the invasion of Vietnam in 1965, North American cultural imperialism.

As the actor and historian, Christophe Bourseiller, recalls ‘[Godard] arrived one day with a crate of [Mao Zedong’s] ‘Little Red Book’ which he had picked up from the Chinese Embassy in Paris.’

David Faroult, author of ‘Godard: Inventions of Political Cinema’, continues that the director wished to document the political climate in contemporary France by focusing on the radical ‘Union of Communist, Marxist and Leninist Youth, a new pro-Maoist group very much influenced by the philosopher Louis Althusser.’

The Chinese Godard 1967

The resultant feature film, ‘The Chinese’, loosely based on Dostoyevsky’s novel, ‘Demons’, was released in 1967, wherein an isolated group of politicised students are portrayed as ‘[The Swiss Family Robinson] of Marxism-Leninism’ in Godard’s attempt to ‘confront vague ideas with clear images’ as one social class sets about overthrowing another.

The Chinese Embassy detested the film however, describing it as the work of ‘a reactionary moron’. In turn, they said if they had the power then they would forbid it from even being called ‘The Chinese’. Godard was disappointed of course, but he wasn’t dissuaded.

At the outset of the now legendary student protests and industrial strikes across de Gualle’s France in May 1968, Godard, Truffaut and others famously travelled to the Cannes Film Festival to demand the event be delayed ‘for the film industry to show solidarity … I’m talking about solidarity with the students and workers, and you’re talking to me about tracking shots and close-ups!’

From 1970 to 1971 Godard marched alongside the Dziga Vertov Group, a political filmmaking collective which, ironically, sought to erase the notion and influence of the auteur by way of Marxist content and Brechtian forms.

Godard was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in Paris in June 1971 however and spent a week in a coma. Leuthy’s narrator comments that, not only did this serve as a metaphor for the director’s political failings, but also for his rebirth: he met the famed multimedia artist, Anne-Marie Miéville, in 1973 and they were married in 1978.

The middle-aged director then entered into a period of exile and experimentation, building the Sonimage studio in his house in Grenoble where he explored and invented new filmic approaches with the latest videography equipment to ‘satisfy his fantasy of making movies all by himself.’

As Henri Langlois, one of the original founders of the Cinémathèque Française in 1936, aptly observes: ‘The last person who made cinema language evolve was Godard … With access to video technology, he would become the new Griffith of cinema.’

Of course, there is much more for audiences to uncover, experience and learn for themselves from Cyril Leuthy’s thoughtful and disciplined documentary about one of the key figures in the history of the moving image.

The documentary’s US premiere is at the non-profit Film Forum Cinema in New York on December 15th 2023, and this will be preceded by Jean-Luc Godard’s final film project, ‘Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars’.

In turn, while the digital release of ‘Godard Cinema’ across the US won’t be until February 2024, UK cinephiles can enjoy the documentary now on the BFI Player online. It is highly recommended.

This review first appeared on Arts Express for WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York.

Socialism, Scotland, Cinema and Song: Brett Gregory interviews David Archibald
Tuesday, 19 December 2023 08:55

Socialism, Scotland, Cinema and Song: Brett Gregory interviews David Archibald

Published in Films

Brett Gregory, UK Desk for Arts Express on WBAI-FM Radio (New York) interviews David Archibald, Professor of Political Cinema (Theatre, Film & Television Studies) at the University of Glasgow (UK), December 2023. Image above: The Tenementals

BG: Hi, this is the UK Desk for Arts Express, and my name is Brett Gregory. Tonight's guest is an academic, an author, an activist, a filmmaker, and a singer from Glasgow in Scotland.

DA: Hey, my name’s David Archibald, and I teach film studies at the University of Glasgow.

BG: Great voice, David. Anyway, as well as teaching film, what are your wider research interests in the subject?

DA: I'm the editor of the Political Cinema series at Edinburgh University Press, so perhaps that may indicate something of my general research interests.

BG: And what other projects has this led onto, specifically?

DA: I recently completed a book on Ken Loach, which is published in the series. And just now I'm working on a project that attempts to link feminist activists in Cuba, Catalonia and Glasgow through collaborative no-budget filmmaking. And I'm also doing another research project that explores how a music band might be able to make history with a capital H.

Front Cover Tracking Loach

BG: So what's your personal perspective on cinema as an art form?

DA: In common with the pioneers of Third Cinema, a radical film movement from what is generally now called the Global South, I take the view that cinema can be utilised as a generator of theory: that we can think and that we can learn through making.

BG: I like that, that's interesting. I reviewed your latest book, 'Tracking Loach,' for Arts Express earlier this year, as well as for the arts and politics website Culture Matters, which is based in the Northeast of the UK. Out of curiosity, what was your rationale behind the book's title?

DA: I called the book 'Tracking Loach' because I've been tracking the British filmmaker, Ken Loach, in different capacities for some decades, as an audience member for many, many years, but also as a journalist including writing articles for the great New York-based journal ‘Cineaste’, and as an academic with various chapters and articles.

When I heard that Loach was coming to Glasgow to film 'The Angels' Share' about 10 years ago, I was contacted and asked if I could look over his shoulder while he was making the film. And I proposed that I would write a book about his celebrated working practices. Thankfully, he said yes, so the book is an account of tracking Loach in many ways over many decades from a political perspective.

BG: What would you say is particularly significant about the films Ken Loach has directed in the first quarter of this century?

DA: What's noticeable about Loach's work is how the films are utilized to force the political discourse beyond the screen. And Loach's work – whether it be 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' which deals with Britain's role in Ireland in the Irish Civil War, or 'I, Daniel Blake' about the conditions facing unemployed workers in Britain – what's noticeable is the significant way that they shift the discourse away from the one set by the British right-wing media.

BG: And how would you personally assess Ken Loach's impact on, for example, the field of cinema as a whole?

DA: Loach has been a socialist for his entire adult life. His contribution to radical cinema is unmatched in breadth alone on a global scale.

BG: Now, in this cold-hearted corporatized society of ours, what would you identify as a key practical value of independent artistic expression?

DA: I think that artworks help to set agendas for conversations to come into being. I've spent a long time attempting to foster and nurture alternative ways of talking and doing, being and making. There's a parallel perhaps in the invaluable work that alternative media, like your own radio station, do. They’re vital in creating a new set of possibilities for us. That's why I'm delighted to be here, speaking today.

BG: Yeah, it's all about digging deep, excavating the new, the unknown, the hidden, and sharing the wealth. So, Glasgow: a place that’s always brimmed with energy and ideas in the arts, culture and, particularly, grassroots politics. What does this tell us about the city's psyche, its outlook, and its history?

DA: Glasgow is a city haunted by a proletarian ghost. The city is well known for its industrial past and for a radical heritage which goes alongside it. The spirit of collectivism which developed when it was a major industrial centre continues to operate in much of the city's cultural scene. It’s manifest, for instance, through various ways that artists are open to working together. There is a collaborative ethos, and that's connected to the spirit of collectivism which was forged in the shipyards and factories. And I’m interested in exploring and have always been interested in this for a long time, exploring how to converse with that ghost and see what might transpire.

BG: But your passion for and your pursuit of these creative conversations, as you say, has taken you further afield beyond Glasgow, beyond Scotland even?

DA: I'm currently working with Núria Araüna Baró, an academic from the Public University of Tarragona, and with four groups of feminist activists in Havana and Glasgow, cities which are twinned, and Vilanova i la Geltrú in Catalonia, the city in which Núria resides and Matanzas in Cuba; these two cities are also twin. It's a project that tries to connect these activists through dialogical filmmaking, building trans-local connections. And we have an event at the Havana Film Festival in December next month, at which women from all the four cities will meet for the first time. It's a beautiful project, and I feel very lucky to be part of it. So although I create work that is deeply rooted in the city, always interesting to build international connections and alliances beyond them.

David Archibald centre at the Havana Film Festival

David Archibald (centre) at the Havana Film Festival

BG: Admirable stuff, man. Your students at Glasgow University are lucky to have you. Right, your band, The Tenementals. Tell us more.

DA: The Tenementals is a wild research project and a lot of fun. It attempts to recount the history of Glasgow in song and asks what might history look, sound and feel like if it was created by a group of musicians. It also asks not whether artworks or songs can be history but whether history with a capital H can be artworks or songs. It's wild because it refuses the strictures often imposed on conventional academic research and finds its own path within the artistic community. It runs to its own beat, untethered by authority or control. That's really the only way it can be alive. It has to do whatever it has to do, and the history that it constructs is a history of fragments. It's a radical history of a radical city told in a radical way.

BG: And your latest song – which we’ll be actually playing out with – has got a compelling radical history all of its own.

DA: Although we set out to record a history of Glasgow in song, we're certainly not parochial, far from it: our outlook is international. In January we played a support gig for striking workers and we wanted to do a cover. We were thinking through options, and I was speaking with a filmmaker and academic friend of mine, Holger Mohaupt. And we were talking about German songs popular during the Spanish Civil War. And he mentioned 'Die Moorsoldaten' or ‘Peat Bog Soldiers' in English. It was first performed 90 years ago this year, 1933, in a concentration camp for leftist political prisoners. And although it's been covered in English by a number of quite famous singers like Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, it's not particularly well known in Britain. We asked Holger's daughter, Lily, to sing it because I'd heard her very, very beautiful but delicate voice on some films that Holger had made previously. The first time I heard her singing in the recording studio or in the rehearsal studio, I knew instantly that we had to record it.

The Tenementals Logo

BG: And the release is a bit different?

DA: We've just brought out two versions, one in German and English with a new translation, and one the rarely performed six-verse German version. We hope to introduce an old song to new audiences in a new way. It's a song about opposition in the most difficult and darkest of times, and I think that that has resonance.

BG: Yeah, the darkest of times pretty much sums a lot of things up at the moment. What are your thoughts on the future? Do you see hope?

DA: You know, when I was a teenager, people often used to tell me that I'd grow out of the radical socialist ideas which I held. Socialists are often presented as dreamers and fantasists, but if we look at the catastrophe which capitalism has created in terms of global climate change, the true fantasists are surely those who would have you believe that it can be resolved under capitalism. It cannot. Socialism, for me at least, remains the hope of the future. And while some academics often talk very vaguely about living differently or about being differently or working in a post-capitalist world, I suppose we're not afraid to name our object of desire: a democratic socialism in which workers have control over their own lives, and where human beings live in harmony with the world, rather than ruthlessly exploiting it in the interests of the ruling class.

BG: That's very honest and rousing, David. The struggle often feels lonely for many, myself included, but thanks to you, not today. It's been brilliant having you on the show. I'm really happy to have finally met you.

DA: Thank you, Brett. It's been great to talk with you, and good luck with all your great work.

BG: Cheers, man. This has been the UK desk for Arts Express, and I've been Brett Gregory. And, as promised, here are The Tenementals with their latest single, the haunting and historical ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ which is available now via Strength In Numbers Records on Bandcamp.

This interview originally appeared on Arts Express via WBAI 99.5 FM radio in New York.

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